By A Thread: Trang T. Lê’s Painting as Meditation

The intricate compositions painted by Trang T. Lê are intentionally difficult to create. That’s because, for Lê, painting is not just a way to create a beautiful image, but also an emotional outlet—one in which her near obsessive attention to line and detail serves as a psychological release. 

The artist’s abstract compositions often feature meticulously rendered marks, such as carefully crafted “threads” and delicately painted Pointillist-inspired dots, over loose, densely-painted grounds. The combination of control and chaos results in works that seem frozen in mid-movement, as if Lê has managed to capture the ineffable sensation of seaweed swaying underwater or a waterfall descending over a cliff. Along with such meditations on nature, the works reference Lê’s own personal history, serving as a vehicle to exorcise her pain. Violence becomes a recurring theme, drawn from contemporary conflicts and the legacy of war. 

In her latest exhibition “Threads II” featured in Santa Monica’s Ruth Bachofner Gallery, the California-based artist continues her exploration of  “thread,” in works that display fluid lines in vibrant color. Each piece evidences the artist’s single-minded attention to the repetition of the form of the line. In her poetic statement about the series, Lê explains, “My life is brilliant, my love is pure and true/ Holding my paint brush, I will never stop painting/ All I have got is this thread I hold on.”

To create these pieces, Lê carefully guides her brush across the canvas to make  a continuous line that weaves  through the composition. In works like Intensity (2014), the technique calls to mind the infinite intricacies of wood grain.  Others, like Graziella’s Thread (2014), combine areas of dense tangles with thin strands of color that recall the strings of a marionette. Within the seemingly straightforward framework of this repeated gesture, Lê is able to find a remarkable variety of expressions—and, along with it, catharsis. 

Heather Corcoran

Threads II” is on view at Ruth Bachofner Gallery, Santa Monica, Jan. 10–Feb. 21, 2015.

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